Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 October 2019

Shane Gillis was fired from 'Saturday Night Live' and rightfully so

Gillis was to join the forthcoming season of the long-running show but has had his invitation rescinded

Shane Gillis, who was set to join the cast of 'Saturday Night Live'. The show has since rescinded its invitation, following the unearthing of  footage of Gillis using a racial slur for Chinese people and deriding Asians trying to learn English. NBC via AP
Shane Gillis, who was set to join the cast of 'Saturday Night Live'. The show has since rescinded its invitation, following the unearthing of  footage of Gillis using a racial slur for Chinese people and deriding Asians trying to learn English. NBC via AP

Goodbye Shane Gillis, we hardly knew you. Within days of being announced as a new cast member for the 45th season of Saturday Night Live, he was fired.

That’s because clips of Gillis resurfaced in which he had previously used an anti-Asian racial slur among other choice remarks in a podcast recorded in September 2018. During the same podcast, he even calls what they’re discussing as “nice racism, good racism.” In addition, a further dig into his material also revealed other works that disparaged women, Muslims and other groups.

Soon there was enough backlash to get Gillis fired from SNL. And while many were happy with that decision, there are still many that have defended him.

“This is just cancel culture,” said American comic Jim Jefferies. “The guy shouldn’t have been fired. It was just a couple things back in his history. We’re going to go through everyone’s history?”

Stand-up comic Bill Burr also added: “Do they go back and also try to look at things the person might’ve done, or are they just looking for the bad stuff? I mean you could honestly do that to anybody.

“You millennials, you’re a bunch of rats, all of you,” Burr added. “None of them care. All they want to do is get people in trouble.”

Since being fired, Gillis has remained fairly quiet, tweeting just: “It feels ridiculous for comedians to be making serious public statement but here we are. I’m a comedian who was funny enough to get SNL. That can’t be taken away.”

He went on to say, “I respect the decision they made. I’m honestly grateful for the opportunity. I was always a Mad TV guy anyway.”

'Saturday Night Live' did the right thing in firing him

As a Chinese-American millennial rat, let’s get the most obvious thing out of the way: Gillis's lack of an actual apology shows that letting him go was the right thing to do. His unapologetic and insincere response seems to prove he doesn’t really believe he did anything wrong.

If being a comedian requires you to take risks that you know may demand an apology, maybe you should be asking yourself how good your comedy is to begin with.

Even if SNL had given him a “chance to apologise” – as some people suggested they should have done – would it have mattered if it was disingenuous?

It's been said that if this had always been the case, comedians like Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and others would never have been hired. If that actually were the case, then good. Just because there are higher standards for what’s politically correct these days doesn’t excuse what’s happened in the past. Just because they got away with it then doesn’t mean we should allow someone else to now.

Prior to his firing, Gillis wrote up this statement: “I’m a comedian who pushes boundaries. I sometimes miss. If you go through my 10 years of comedy, most of it bad, you’re going to find a lot of bad misses. I’m happy to apologise to anyone who’s actually offended by anything I’ve said. My intention is never to hurt anyone but I am trying to be the best comedian I can be and sometimes that requires risks.”

I don't think that’s good enough. It’s not OK to make racist and sexist comments, and then say, “I’m just kidding. It was a joke.” If being "the best comedian" means taking risks that you know may cause you to have to apologise, maybe you should be asking yourself how good your comedy is to begin with. There are plenty of comics out there who have made a living out of being edgy and guess what? They’ve never had to apologise for what they’ve joked about.

For those in defence of Gillis

Both Burr and Jeffries's points don't seem relevant in 2019. As if saying, 'How dare people be held accountable for bad things they’ve said or done in the past'. It’s not like these comments from Gillis were dug out of a private conversation, screenshot and shared with the world. No, it was a podcast, something he and his friends chose to publicly publish for everyone to hear. It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who truly believed his words weren’t offensive.

Other former SNL cast members have also spoken out in support of Gillis, including Rob Schneider and Norm Macdonald. The latter tweeted Gillis, to say: “I’m so sorry. I can’t even imagine how you must feel. The work it takes to get that show and to have it snatched away by some guy who does “Spoken Bird” poetry ... I'm so sorry.” The "Spoken Bird" comment references journalist Seth Simons, who raised awareness of Gillis’ remarks. There is a video of Simons on YouTube impersonating a bird reading poetry.

This goes back to believing that Gillis is somehow the victim in all of this, that he worked so hard and someone else took something away from him. No, that’s not what happened at all. It’s about holding someone responsible for something damaging they’ve done. And making fun of people who are trying to learn English or using an anti-Chinese slur is pretty damaging if you ask me. So if anyone is to blame for what’s happened, it is Gillis himself.

People, especially those who weren't targeted by his jokes, really don’t get to say what is and isn’t OK to joke about. After all, Burr, Jeffries, Schneider and Macdonald all have something in common, and it isn’t just that they’re comedians. So maybe mocking a Chinese accent is funny to them, but it isn’t to me. And sorry guys, but you don’t get to dictate what is and isn’t offensive.

So what do we go from here?

Asian-Americans have often been brushed aside in pop culture and yet they’re still found to be the butt of racist jokes disguised as “comedy”. Perhaps what’s even worse about the whole situation with Gillis is the fact that it overshadows the accomplishment of Chinese-American comedian, Bowen Yang, who was also announced as a cast member for the forthcoming season. SNL has also had issues with its diversity, and Yang is the first East Asian cast member to join the long running show.

In what should have been a monumental moment, it feels quite marred by what’s happened. In 2019, racism should not be tolerated. After all, we’re in this together.

While Gillis possibly lost out on a life-changing gig (after all, some SNL alum have gone on to have impressive careers), hopefully he will grow from this missed opportunity and learn that it's possible to be funny and to not have to do so at the expense of others.

Updated: September 18, 2019 06:04 PM

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